Apple Compote

We always have a glut of apples at this time of year, thanks to our allotment-owning friends. Every year I dutifully wrap them in newspaper, store them in a cool, dry, dark place, and every year a good proportion of them still rot. Over the years it has made me much more cautious about storing apples that are in any way less-than-perfect.

I won’t throw the marked ones away though, instead we now make up a huge batch of silky smooth apple compote. You can use all eating apples, all cooking apples, or a mix of the two; the method is the same whatever you do.

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge this will easily keep for a few weeks, and will freeze for up to 3 months. It is great with muesli or granola for breakfast; with cinnamon and allspice stirred through it I have made some lovely individual apple pies, and it also makes a great base for an apple fool. It can also be served alongside pork dishes (rather than processed, jarred apple sauce) or used as an element of a lovely home-made granola.

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RECIPE 

apples: eaters, cookers or a mix

golden caster sugar, to taste

a little water


METHOD

Peel, core and finely slice the apples – be sure to remove every little bit of fibre from the core and peel, otherwise you can be sure it will catch in your teeth.

Put the apples in a large pan and add a good tablespoon of sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of water – just to stop them catching on the bottom of the pan. Cook, covered, over a gentle heat and stirring often until the apple pieces have completely dissolved and you have a thick, slightly translucent purée. It should take about half an hour.

Add more caster sugar to taste – enough to achieve a purée that is still on the tart side but not unpleasantly so. You can always add sugar when you serve it up, and in fact the slight graininess of just-sprinkled caster sugar on the compote is a pleasure in itself.

Leave to cool completely, then store in the fridge in a jar or Tupperware container.

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Sauerkraut

I am a total beginner when it comes to home fermentation, though it is a topic that has intrigued me for a while now. I was pushed to actually give it a go a few weeks ago when I listened to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme that gave a fermentation masterclass by Sandor Katz.

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I now have a 2 litre jar of home-made sauerkraut fermenting away – flavoured with juniper berries, caraway seeds and fenugreek seeds – and I have to tell you that it is delicious right now, and I believe that it will only get better. The trick is to keep on tasting it, every few days, until it is exactly how you like it then put it in the fridge to drastically slow the fermentation. Of course if, like me, you’re a newbie to kraut then you have no idea how you like it, so it’s all an experiment. I’m just going to keep it going as long as I can, I’ll soon figure out how I like it – if it lasts long enough. I’m already finding uses for it: as a condiment, tumbled over soups, tossed through salads and – my favourite so far – scattered over cheese on toast. I’m going to see if I can make use of it as a stock base as well; truly, the only limit seems to be your imagination.

So, what’s it all about, and how do you make it? I’ll let an expert tell you, here is Sandor Katz:

“The fermentation of cabbage into sauerkraut is not the work of a single microorganism. Sauerkraut, like most fermentations, involves a succession of several different organisms, not unlike the life of a forest, in which a series of different trees follow each other as the dominant species, each succeeding type altering conditions to favour the next. The fermentation involves a broad community of bacteria, with a succession of different dominant players, determined by the increasing acidity.

Do not be deterred by the biological complexity of the transformation. That happens on its own once you create the simple conditions for it. Sauerkraut is very easy to make. The sauerkraut method is also referred to as dry-salting, because typically no water is added and the juice under which the vegetables are submerged comes from the vegetables themselves. This is the simplest and most straightforward method, and results in the most concentrated vegetable flavour.”


RECIPE – by Sandor Katz

1 kilogram of vegetables per litre. Any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables.

Approximately 1 tablespoon salt (start with a little less, add if needed after tasting)
Other seasonings as desired, such as caraway seeds, juniper berries, dill, chilli peppers, ginger, turmeric, dried cranberries, or whatever you can conjure in your imagination.


METHOD – by Sandor Katz

Prepare the vegetables.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results.

Salt and season.

Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. (If you must, cover the veggies with de-chlorinated water, let this sit for 5 minutes, then pour off the excess water.)
Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices. Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).

Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar.

Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert. Screw the top on the jar; lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic and do not need oxygen (though they can function in the presence of oxygen). However, be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous.

Wait.

Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. The rate of fermentation will be faster in a warm environment, slower in a cool one. Some people prefer their krauts lightly fermented for just a few days; others prefer a stronger, more acidic flavour that develops over weeks or months. Taste after just a few days, then a few days later, and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer. Along with the flavour, the texture changes over time, beginning crunchy and gradually softening. Move to the refrigerator if you wish to stop (or rather slow) the fermentation. In a cool environment, kraut can continue fermenting slowly for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid; eventually it can become soft and mushy.

Enjoy your kraut!

I start eating it when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavour over the course of a few weeks (or months in a large batch). Be sure to try the sauerkraut juice that will be left after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice packs a strong flavour, and is unparalleled as a digestive tonic or hangover cure.

Tips…

Surface growth – The most common problem that people encounter in fermenting vegetables is surface growth of yeasts and/or moulds, facilitated by oxygen. Many books refer to this as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. It’s a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. If you should encounter surface growth, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discoloured or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it. Don’t worry.

Develop a rhythm – Start a new batch before the previous one runs out. Get a few different flavours or styles going at once for variety. Experiment!

Variations – Add a little fresh vegetable juice and dispense with the need to squeeze or pound. Incorporate mung bean sprouts . . .hydrated seaweed . . . shredded or quartered Brussels sprouts… cooked potatoes (mashed, fried, and beyond, but always cooled!) . . . dried or fresh fruit… the possibilities are infinite . . .

Satchini Pomme D’Amour

My big discovery of the summer has been Mauritian cooking. I have been steadily working my way through ‘Sunshine on a Plate’ by 2012 UK Masterchef winner Shelina Permalloo (shelinacooks.com). It is one of those glorious books where you want to cook absolutely every recipe.

This is a simple, refreshing chutney that seems to be a constant presence on Mauritian tables. It works particularly well alongside Shelina’s butter bean curry, making a delicious dish even more delicious!

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RECIPE – Serves 4 as a side dish

4 ripe tomatoes

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds in, finely chopped

approx 3 tbsp of finely chopped fresh coriander stalk

1 tbsp vegetable oil

flaky sea salt, to taste

finely shredded coriander leaves


METHOD

This chutney works best when it has a fine texture, so either chop the tomatoes finely by hand, or carefully pulse them in a food processor until they are the size you want (having gone a little too far with the food processor on one occasion, ending up with a smooth tomato paste, I found that this also makes a delicious ketchup!)

Combine the rest of the ingredients with the finely chopped tomatoes, season carefully and serve immediately.

Wild Garlic Pesto

There is a large patch of wild garlic near where I live, about the size of a volleyball court. It is slightly hidden by a bush, but it isn’t tucked away, being just a few feet off a country path and yet nobody else seems to have discovered it. Or maybe they have, and just don’t know what it is…

More fool them, wild garlic is a highlight of spring for me, if only because it gives me the chance to make up a huge batch of wild garlic pesto.  I have made absolutely loads this year, which I have frozen in small quantities of a couple of tablespoonfuls each. It is absolutely divine mixed in with pasta with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a scraping of Parmesan, but it is also excellent for adding a mysterious, bright tang to soups and sauces, or just dilute it with extra-virgin olive oil and use as a dressing for salad.

It is so quick and easy to make there is absolutely no excuse for you not to try it, and it is one of those things that, once tasted, make you wonder why you ever bought pesto in a jar. The quantities given in the recipe make a large jar, if you want more just scale everything up in proportion.

Feel free to experiment with the nuts that you use, almost any nut will do the job – just make sure they are fresh otherwise their oils may be rancid, and make sure that the nuts that you use haven’t been coated or treated in any way, salty dry-roasted peanuts are delicious with a pint of beer but not so good in pesto.

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RECIPE – Makes a large jar

100g wild garlic

50g Parmesan, finely grated

50g hazelnuts, skinned & toasted

extra-virgin olive oil

lemon juice, to taste

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Wash the wild garlic thoroughly and pick out any foliage (and insects) that don’t belong. Place in a food processor and blitz until fairly well chopped. If you don’t have a food processor then you can do the job using a knife, and make the final paste using a mortar and pestle.

Add the Parmesan and blitz again, then add the hazelnuts. When the nuts are added you will need to have your olive oil handy; turn the machine back on, and add the olive oil while blitzing to your desired consistency.

Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, and several months frozen.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

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The first thing I consider whenever I cook something is: where is the flavour coming from? If it is a risotto the quality of the stock is crucial; if I am making a curry then the spices in the curry paste are the most important elements for flavour, and when making a tomato sauce the quality of the aromatics (not to mention the tomatoes) is key. Get that first consideration wrong, and it won’t matter what else you do, your dish won’t be as delicious as it could possibly be.

I long ago got into the habit of using fish sauce as a way of delivering ‘umami’, and if that isn’t appropriate then an anchovy fillet or two cooked in oil until it all-but dissolves will do the job. If you are making a dish for a vegan though, neither of these methods is appropriate, so I started using commercial sun-dried tomatoes to intensify flavours.

Anyone who knows me knows that I shy away from anything commercially processed, so will know what came next: of course, I started to dry my own tomatoes. It is a simple process, and delivers such intensity to any tomato-based sauce that you will never need to add tomato puree to anything ever again. I now use oven-dried tomatoes in all my tomato sauces, using one or two per tin of chopped tomatoes – so if a recipe calls for two tins of chopped tomatoes, I will augment it with two or four chopped dried tomatoes, depending on the intensity that I require.

They are also lovely spread on toasted bruschetta, with a little goat’s cheese as an antipasti.

To make oven-dried tomatoes:

Heat your oven to 140C/ gas 1.

Cut ripe tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, toss the tomato flesh in a little olive oil (I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large freezer bag, add a kilo of seeded tomatoes and work the tomatoes around the bag so they are fully coated) then lay the tomatoes in a single layer on a rack, set over a baking tray.

Just pop them in the oven and leave them for 2 to 3 hours, until they are reduced in size by about a third. At this point they will still be quite plump, you can go even further and leave them in the oven for up to eight hours so they are fully dried out and leathery. Cooked this way they can be stored almost indefinitely in the fridge.

Pack a kilner jar (or similar) with the dried tomatoes, cover completely with olive oil and store them in the fridge. I have had a jar of plump-dried tomatoes in my fridge for months and they are still perfect, so I have no idea how long they will actually last – long enough, that’s for sure.

If you completely dry your tomatoes then in most cases they can be stored dry, but will need to be re-hydrated in water overnight before use.

Yellow Curry Paste

Curry paste is ridiculously easy to make, yet is unimaginably better than anything you can buy from a supermarket. It freezes well and will last for months, so you can make a batch as in the recipe below, divide it into portions of 2 tablespoons each, put into a freezer bag and you’ll always have the makings of a fast and delicious mild Thai curry.

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RECIPE – Makes approximately 5 servings

1 tsp white peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp curry powder

1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, chopped

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a 3cm knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp groundnut oil


METHOD

Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat (NOT a non-stick pan), add the peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds and dry-toast for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them, turn them out onto a plate to cool before grinding to a powder in a coffee grinder reserved for that purpose, or in a mortar and pestle.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a thick, bright yellow paste. Easy!

Masala Paste

If you look through this blog you will notice that I make quite a lot of spicy food, I can’t help myself, I love it. Some find working with spice quite scary, as if it is a dark art, or they look at the ingredients list for an authentic curry and move on because it is so long. Actually, if you follow a trusted recipe exactly then spice is extremely easy to cook with, and of course the more you cook with it the more you will understand it.

To cut out some of the preparation I always have a stock of pre-made pastes in the freezer. They freeze extremely well and the flavours intensify the longer you leave them. This is one of my favourites, a flavour-packed, vibrant paste that isn’t too hot. It is great used anywhere a recipe specifies a store-bought masala or balti paste.

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RECIPE – Makes 8 tbsp

1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground

1 tsp coriander seeds, dry-fried and ground

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

a big thumb of fresh ginger, finely chopped, or 2 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

a handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

First, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth puree. The coriander won’t chop up finely enough to disappear but that’s no problem.

Chaat Masala

The one ingredient that most Indian snacks, street foods, roasted and fried food and salads rely on for their instant zing and spicy sparkle is Chaat Masala. This spice mix is a blend of spicy, salty and tart flavours and is usually added to the food after cooking and right before serving. It is one of the secret weapons of your local Indian restaurant.

Usually a good sprinkling of a tablespoonful (or more, experiment with it) over the prepared dish and a good stir through to combine is all that is needed. Chaat Masala adds an unbelievable edge to the flavour. Some of the ingredients are a little esoteric, like the ground black salt, but are well worth tracking down online if you cannot find them in your nearest international food store.

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RECIPE – makes a small jarful

3 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground

1 teaspoon toasted coriander seed, ground

1⁄2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

4 teaspoons amchoor powder (powdered dried mango)

3 teaspoons ground black salt (or ordinary salt if you really can’t get it)

1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch asafoetida powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon Carom seeds

1⁄4 teaspoon ground dried mint

1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon paprika


METHOD

First, dry-toast the cumin, coriander, fennel and carom seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all ingredients, and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Simple as that!

Garlic Butter and Garlic Bread

It’s the little things that matter when you are cooking; whether it is the choice of oil, the freshness of the ingredients or the judicious selection of side dishes.

I guess everyone knows how to make garlic butter: take some butter and mash some garlic into it. Yes? Well okay, yes, but add a few little extra things and you will experience garlic butter that will make you cry with joy. Simon Hopkinson, restaurateur and writer, is responsible for this, and he has my eternal thanks.

Garlic bread is a must-have when I am serving meatballs, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese. It is so easy to make you will never reach for the ready-made supermarket version again.

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RECIPE – Sufficient to make a baguette into garlic bread 

125g unsalted butter

4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of flaky sea salt

a twist of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of cayenne pepper

3 drops of tabasco

1 long French baguette


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients (except the baguette, of course) into a bowl and mash together until fully combined. Roll out a 30cm square piece of cling film and place the butter mix in the middle, then using the cling film to shield your hands, mould and roll out into a sausage. Wrap the cling film tightly around it and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the garlic bread: heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. Cut the baguette 3/4 of the way through in slices 1cm thick; the baguette will still hold together but is easily torn apart when served.

Take the chilled sausage of butter and cut thin slices, place a slice of butter in between each slice that you made in the baguette.

Take a length of baking parchment, long enough to wrap the baguette. Scrunch it up and wet it under a tap. Shake it so there is no excess water, then place the baguette into it and wrap tightly so it is sealed. Doing this ensures that your baguette (which has already been baked) steams as it heats and remains moist. Place onto a large baking tray and bake for between 10 and 20 minutes until it is done to your liking – keep an eye on it!

Preserved Lemons

I love middle-eastern food, it is fast becoming my go-to cuisine when I’m not sure what to cook. It’s the intense bursts of flavour coming from unfamiliar ingredients that keeps on drawing me back: the dark smokiness of dried limes; the sharp intensity of barberries; the intoxicating aromas of dukkah and za’atar, and the sunshine brightness of preserved lemons.

I had been buying preserved lemons for years, until I discovered just how easy it was to do at home. Is there any point to making your own rather than just buying them in? Not really, except for the satisfaction of having yet another thing in the pantry that you have made yourself. It’s a good feeling.

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RECIPE 

Lots of ripe unwaxed lemons

120g fine sea salt per 1kg of lemons


METHOD

First, sterilise your chosen jar and its lid: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jar and lid in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lid and jar or you will undo your good work.

Wash the lemons well, trim off the pointed end and cut through the lemons so you have four segments, still attached together at the stem end. Sprinkle the salt into each lemon, then push the lemons down into the jar, as hard as you can so they are under pressure. When you cannot fit any more lemons into the jar, fill the spaces with more freshly squeezed lemon juice so the lemons are completely covered. The quantity of salt that you will need is determined by the total weight of the lemons that you used, including those that you only used the juice from.

Seal the jar and leave in a cool dark place for a month, at which point the lemons will be ready to use. You can use the flesh, though it is the peel that is used more often – chopped finely and sprinkled into salads, stews, soups, tagines… anywhere a burst of citrus is required. You can also use the briny juice as a seasoning.

Be sure to keep the preserved lemons in the jar covered in juice at all times, adding more freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary, and these will last for as long as you need them.